By Nkem Ekeopara
Exclusive commentary for USAfrica, USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine, Houston
On Friday, October 8, 2010, Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, former Managing Director and Chief ExecutiveOfficer of Oceanic International Bank Plc, which until last year was regarded as one ofNigeria’s leading banks, was convicted and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment on a three count charge of negligence, reckless grant of credit running into billions of dollars and mismanagement of depositors’ funds. The sentence was handed down to her by a FederalHigh Court sitting in Nigeria’s commercial capital city of Lagos, presided over by Justice Dan Abutu.
She was sentenced to six months on each of the three counts. It will run concurrently. So,she will be in prison for six months. In addition, she will forfeit over $1.3b in assets, whichshe owned across the globe and shares in several blue chip companies to the government.
Mrs. Ibru was originally arraigned before a Lagos High Court on a 23-count charge onAugust 31, 2009, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The EFCClater amended it to a 25-count charge in February 2010, but quite curiously broughtthe number of charges preferred against her to three after a plea deal. When I gotthe news alert on Friday’s afternoon, I thought there was a mistake in the term of imprisonment. I had thought the term of imprisonment was six years rather than six months!
Even then, I felt that six years was scandalous knowing that on June 29, 2009, Bernard Madoff, a corporate thief like Cecilia Ibru, was sentenced to a term of 150 years by Judge Denny Chin, a United States District Judge. And that was the maximum allowed and thejudge handed it to him without batting an eyelid. I know Ibru’s crimes may not be as hugeas Madoff’s, but to wake up to the reality that Mrs. Ibru was sentenced to just six months injail for her actions in a developing economy makes me wonder if the war against corruptionin Nigeria is not a kind of elite conspiracy to appease the masses and avoid a revolt.
Sure, I know that United States may have a different body of laws from Nigeria. But Nigeriaclaims it is practising a presidential system of government like the US. Is it not about timeit synchronized its laws with that of the US? If the body of laws of Nigeria is not the issueand it is a deficiency in the prosecutors, then there should be immediate capacity buildingfor them to perform better. However, if the fault is from the jurists, as some Nigerianssay, then the Nigerian people must get their government to accede to the request madeby the EFCC Chairman, Farida Waziri, for the creation of a special court to be staffed withcompetent and incorruptible jurists to handle cases of economic and financial crimes.
When I think about the stagnation in the real sector of the Nigerian economy and the millions of jobs that could have been created over the years with Mrs. Ibru’s acquisitions obtained through her calculated and systematic looting of Oceanic Bank’s vault, I feel that those handing down the kind of sentence given to her really do not care aboutsolving the problem of graduate unemployment in Nigeria and the consequences.
I believe a lot of poor Nigerians do not see much difference between what Mrs. Cecilia Ibru has done and what armed robbers who raid the banks in broad daylight do: cart away millions. In fact, it is possible that if one sums up what armed robbers have carted away for a decade in Nigeria and compare it with Mrs. Ibru’s loot, theirs may be insignificant. So, where is the justification for the kind of punishment she got, when robbers face the gallows if caught? Yes, her loot is to be forfeited to the government. But what about the ones she has usedto maintain an unparalleled life of profligacy all these years, junketing in private jets, and trading corporate governance for showmanship?
Today, kidnapping, which started in the South-South region is being carried out across Nigeria. Armed robbery remains a profitable venture for some, mainly youths and sackedsecurity personnel. ‘Yahoo-Yahoo’ (Internet fraud) gets new entrants daily. And now withOctober 1, 2010, Abuja bombing and the information the State Security Service (SSS) let out on the incident through the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) that one of the suspectedbombers claimed that he used part of his share of the money given to them to perpetrate the evil act to buy an expensive SUV, Nigeria may well be on its way to having bombers-for-hire soon.
One would have thought that with the above state of affairs, efforts, including judicial efforts, should be made to discourage massive looting that goes on in all sectors of theNigerian economy and free the capital needed for job creation to absorb the army ofunemployed graduates.
As I write (this weekend of October 8, 2010), Mrs. Ibru is back to an elite hospital, Redington Hospital in Victoria Island, Lagos from where she was brought to court on Friday. In a country where even-handed justice isnot a norm, she may be allowed to stay there rather than behind the prison walls and barsmeant for her sort of person for the 5 months Justice Dan Abutu ruled she should serve, having discounted the one month she spent in EFCC custody. The Nigerian press owe thepeople a duty not to let this happen.
Nigeria has just celebrated her Golden Jubilee without much jubilation.
50 years hence,Nigerians may still not have much jubilation if its leadership fails to adopt deterrentmeasures to curb corruption. So far, what we see amounts to mere symbolism. And fightingcorruption in Nigeria with symbolism won’t do the work.
•Ekeopara, a contributing writer for USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine, is based in Nigeria.